Year in review: Sexuality issues test unity

Year in review: Sexuality issues test unity
Pastoral credentialing is latest point of contention in longstanding debate
Dec 22, 2014 by Paul Schrag, Mennonite World Review

Members of Columbus (Ohio) Mennonite Church lay their hands on Mark Rupp while Lois Johns Kaufmann, conference minister for Mennonite Church USA’s Central District, prays during a service to install Rupp as pastor of Christian formation. — Lois Maust

Struggles in Mennonite Church USA over same-sex relationships entered uncharted territory in 2014. When one conference licensed a lesbian pastor in Colorado and another signaled its acceptance of a gay man called to pastoral ministry in Ohio, a new question was on the table.
Can a church already torn by conflict over homosexuality stick together when the dispute escalates to whether people in same-sex relationships can be pastors?
In the words of the MC USA Executive Board, the situation “frayed the fragile strands of accountability that hold our church together.”
The board denounced the action that ignited the concern. It refused to recognize Mountain States Conference’s licensing of Theda Good as a pastor at First Mennonite Church in Denver.
A few months later, Mountain States was not alone. Columbus Mennonite Church in Ohio installed Mark Rupp as a pastor, and Central District Conference leaders indicated their intent to license him next summer.
Events some hailed as progress others decried as sinful. Opposition to gays and lesbians in ministry, and frustration over the issue of same-sex relationships in general, rumbled across the denomination. A letter from leaders of five area conferences — Franconia, Lancaster, Virginia, New York and Franklin — called Mountain States’ action “catastrophic for our constituencies.”

Read more here:
http://mennoworld.org/2014/12/22/year-in-review-sexuality-issues-test-unity/

RELATED:

MC USA churches move in 2014
More Mennonite Church USA congregations have left the denomination or switched conferences so far in 2014 than in 2013, many citing concerns related to two conferences accepting gay or lesbian pastors.
http://mennoworld.org/2014/12/22/mc-usa-churches-move-in-2014/

Where will the Same-Sex Conversation Lead?
https://mennolite.wordpress.com/2014/12/04/where-will-the-same-sex-conversation-lead/

Find Yourself a Thin Place this Christmas

In an article called Have a “thin” Christmas in the December 2014 issue of the MB Herald, readers are encouraged to find God in the ‘thin places‘ this Christmas.

God comes near

In North America, with the endless noise and rush of life, it’s often difficult to find places where we can steal a glimpse of heaven . . . we all long for places where the veil of eternity becomes slightly more transparent, awareness of God’s presence is heightened and intimacy with Jesus grows. . .
The ancient Celts called these “thin places.”
Whether thin places are actual geographical locations, or simply moments when we allow ourselves to be more aware of Jesus’ presence in our lives, they’re essential to our spiritual well-being.
New York Times writer Eric Weiner says thin places make us feel disoriented – in a good way. “They confuse. We lose our bearings, and find new ones. Or not. Either way, we are jolted out of old ways of seeing the world.”

“Thin places” at Christmas

The Christmas season offers ample opportunities for us to discover “thin places” in our world. They allow us to become disoriented for just a moment. They open the door for God to show us new ways of seeing things – to renew our hope and faith, and to reorient our spiritual compass.
Perhaps it’s a stirring performance of Handel’s “Messiah,” reminding us again of the majesty and grandeur of our Saviour. Perhaps it’s a quiet evening spent by the fire reading God’s Word, seeking his direction for the new year. Perhaps it’s a smile and an embrace from an old friend in the form of a Christmas card, allowing the joy of community to warmly enfold us.
Or perhaps it’s an unexpected faith conversation with a stranger on the subway after a hectic day of Christmas shopping, jarring us out of the ordinary and reminding us of what’s really important.
Wherever the thin places are for you this Christmas season, I wish you many moments discovering the nearness of God in this world.
After all, more than creating a thin space, Jesus’ birth on earth tore the veil in two. On the first Christmas, he emptied himself to dwell with his people, so we might truly see God face-to-face.

SOURCE – Have a “thin” Christmas by Laura Kalmar
http://mbherald.com/thin-christmas/

Are thin places a biblical way to meet God? Does the Bible teach us to seek God through the concept of thin places?

Before the answers to these questions are explored, one important point must be addressed. In the article, MB Herald editor Laura Kalmar refers to New York Times writer Eric Weiner as one of her information sources on thin places. In the Weiner’s NY Times article, called Where Heaven and Earth Come Closer, he calls thin places “locales where the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine, or the transcendent or, as I like to think of it, the Infinite Whatever.” Weiner is also an author of Man Seeks God: My Flirtations With the Divine. In the writing of this book, Weiner describes . . .

“… a wild ride that takes me to Nepal, where I meditate with Tibetan lamas and a guy named Wayne; to Turkey, where I whirl (not so well, as it turns out) with Sufi dervishes; to China, where I attempts to unblock my chi; to Israel, where I study Kabbalah, sans Madonna; to the Bronx, where I volunteer at a homeless shelter run by Franciscan friars; and even to Las Vegas, where I have a close encounter with Raelians, followers of the world’s largest UFO-based religion.
Along the way, I learn that I am not alone in my spiritual restlessness. The latest studies find that nearly one in three Americans will change their religious affiliation at some point in their lives. We are, more than ever, a nation of God hoppers.
I am willing to do anything to better understand faith, and to find the god or gods that speak to me. I maintain an open mind, leaving judgment at the door…”

It is unfortunate, if not shocking, that the editor of a Christian magazine would draw from the spiritually restless Weiner as a source for an article on how Christians might experience God.

This isn’t the first time that Christians have looked to other religious sources and extra-biblical spiritual means to experience the presence of God. On page 26 of his book called Letters to a Young Evangelical, well known Christian author Tony Campolo writes that every morning “I am able to create what the ancient Celtic Christians call “the thin place.”” This term is the thin line between spirituality and panentheism, implying that God is in all things. The thin place is also considered the gap between God and man where everything thins out and ultimately disappears in meditation.[1]

When Jesus and the power of the gospel is not enough for some people, they often turn to such concepts of ancient spirituality, like Campolo, who says:

“Believing the gospel was never a problem for me, but during times of reflection I sensed that believing in Jesus and living out His teachings just wasn’t enough. There was a yearning for something more, and I found that I was increasingly spiritually gratified as I adopted older ways of praying–ways that have largely been ignored by those of us in the Protestant tradition. Counter-Reformation saints like Ignatius of Loyola have become important sources of help as I have begun to learn from them modes of contemplative prayer. I practice what is known as “centering prayer,” in which a sacred word is repeated as a way to be in God’s presence.
… I’ve got to push everything out of mind save the name of Jesus. I say His name over and over again, for as long as fifteen minutes, until I find my soul suspended in what the ancient Celtic Christians called a “thin place”–a state where the boundary between heaven and earth, divine and human, dissolves. You could say that I use the name of Jesus as my koan.”
-Tony Campolo[2]

Campolo’s friend Samir Selmanovic[3], who has participated in the emergent conversation with Shane Claiborne and Brian McLaren, says of thin places:

“Celtic Christians sought after ‘thin places,’ spots where the membrane between mere physical reality and the reality of God’s presence thins out and becomes soft and permeable. For them, thin places are locations in space or time where God’s world (‘reality as it really is’) intersects with our world (‘reality as we happen to experience it’) so that it can be seen, touched, tasted, or sensed in some unmistakable way. They believed that at places like shorelines, fjords, rivers, and wells, the veil was so sheer, one could almost step through it. . . . A thin place could be a conversation, a dream, a room, a tree, a dawn, a shore, a dance, a person, a scientific lab, a Sabbath, a Eucharist, an early morning meal before the Ramadan fast begins.” 
— Samir Selmanovic in It’s Really All About God, Reflections of a Muslim Atheist Jewish Christian

It appears that, like contemplative spiritual formation, this is all part of a progression of (un)belief that leads people towards universalism. Like the labyrinth, a thin place appears to be another spiritual tool or means where people seek a supernatural experience or feeling. But what exactly is a ‘thin place’?

A thin place is a place of energy. A place where the veil between this world and the eternal world is thin. A thin place is where one can walk in two worlds – the worlds are fused together, knitted loosely where the differences can be discerned or tightly where the two worlds become one.
Thin places aren’t perceived with the five senses. Experiencing them goes beyond those limits.
Fascination with the “Other world” has occupied our human minds since early recordings of history and likely before that. A thin place pulsates with an energy that connects with our own energy – we feel it, but we do not see it. We know there’s another side – another world – another existence. To some it is heaven, the Kingdom, paradise. To others it may be hell, an abyss, the unknown. Whatever you perceive the Other world to be, a thin place is a place where connection to that world seems effortless, and ephemeral signs of its existence are almost palpable.
Mahatma Ghandi in his Spiritual Message to the World in 1931, speaks of this.
“There is an indefinable, mysterious power that pervades everything. I feel it, though I do not see it. It is this unseen power that makes itself felt and yet defies all proof, because it is so unlike all that I perceive through my senses. It transcends the senses”

Source – What is a Thin Place?
http://www.thinplaces.net/openingarticle.htm

The practice of trying to find the doorway connecting to the other world is definitely not a concept from biblical origins, as an excerpt from thinplace.net explains:

The Celts were a culture of people that arrived in Ireland after 500 BC. The idea of thin places or doorways to the Otherworld were solidly a part of the Irish culture long before the Celts came. …The thin places concept was a part of the pre-Christian or pagan charism and these beliefs or sensitivities – existed prior to the Celts. The concept is rejected by many of the present day Christian communities, often being linked to “new age” heathenism. …These pre-Christian Irish people believed the thin place itself had the mystical or spiritual power. One didn’t create a thin place simply by moving into a state of contemplation or spiritual trance. The site itself was thin and that made spiritual contemplation more powerful.[4]

Christianizing the concept of thin spaces is simply another a new blend of spirituality that is not taught in the Bible, if not forbidden. Attempting to sense a spiritual energy or presence through the supernatural veil is an occultic practice. If ‘occult’ means ‘hidden’ spiritual mysteries and the supernatural, those who attempt to peer through the veil between the realms in order to ‘steal a glimpse of heaven’ to hear or see or feel God may be practicing a form of occultism. Occult methods involve seeking the hidden realm beyond rational reason to find a supernatural experience. Such an attempt outside the word of God might be compared to a soldier stepping into enemy territory without his sword. If Satan masquerades as an angel of light, why take the chance of being deceived by the prince of the power of the air (Eph 2:1-2) while looking for a nice supernatural experience in a ‘hidden’ thin place?

While the spiritually restless and misinformed seek supernatural experiences in the thin spaces, it is only in the Bible that the deepest truths can be found. In its pages we read how the Creator of time and space stepped into this darkened world at the perfect time to fulfill prophecy and die for our sins to reconcile us back to Him. His death (not his birth) tore the veil in two, because He was the High Priest who made the final sacrifice (Himself), once and for all (Hebrews 10:10). When our resurrected Lord ascended in heaven, He sent His Holy Spirit to help, teach and comfort us with His presence that indwells and empowers every believer. We don’t need to seek a doorway or experience, we only need to seek and abide in Him. He is the door (John 10:9). Instead of looking to discover “thin places” in our world this season, believers in Christ need only to draw near to God and abide in Him, every day of the year.

“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” James 4:8 ESV

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[1]Campolo Crosses Bridge to Celtic Thin Place
http://muddystreams.wordpress.com/2010/05/05/campolo-finds-the-thin-place/
[2] 
http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Christianity/2006/02/Mystical-Encounters-For-Christians.aspx
*NEW: Note: Tony Campolo’s pathway of choice had led him to accept homosexuality in the church:
Tony Campolo Comes Out of Closet in Support of ‘Full Acceptance’ of Homosexuality in Church
http://www.submergingchurch.com/2015/06/10/tony-campolo-comes-out-of-closet-in-support-of-full-acceptance-of-homosexuality-in-church/
[3] Selmanovic is the founder of “Faith House Manhattan”, an interfaith community of Christians, Muslims, Jews and humanists/atheists (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samir_Selmanovic)
[4] http://www.thinplace.net/2011/03/richard-rohr-celts-didnt-invent-thin.html

Related:

*Read more about the thin places of Celtic Spirituality and which so called Christians promote them, in this article:

In Touch Magazine Draws Readers to “Celtic Spirituality”
http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=9485

*What are Celtic thin places?

Where will the Same-Sex Conversation Lead?

The same-sex issue has been brewing from some time now in the Mennonite church. The following article in the December 2014 issue of the MB Herald is about a play that is bringing people into the same-sex conversation. But will it bring them into the truth?

One-man play calls audience to hear another story

Can fiction create a conversation where study has led only to argument? Some 20 MB and Mennonite church members sponsoring a presentation of Ted Swartz’s play on relationships, sexuality and the church at Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute, Winnipeg, Nov. 11, 2014, hope the audience will come to listen.
Listening for Grace: Variations on a Theme of Struggle and Hope is created and acted by the U.S. Mennonite actor and humourist. Swartz plays five different characters, based on interviews and stories from same-sex attracted individuals and their families. Swartz’s play does not promote an agenda, explains the show’s website, but “teaches the transformative power of listening.”
The Mennonite Brethren conference has heard theological teaching on homosexuality at the board of faith and life’s “Honouring God with the body” study conference Oct. 16–18, 2013, and will continue to explore the subject at the “God, Sex and Church” study conference in 2015.
Swartz’s format isn’t a theological study or discussion. “Plays touch on the emotions,” says Manitoba MB conference pastor Keith Poysti. The conference is not endorsing the play; however, “It’s good for us to listen and hear respectfully,” says Poysti.
John Unger, retired pastor of Fort Garry MB Church, Winnipeg, who is part of the sponsoring group, see the play as “a way to help the church begin to listen to one another. . .”

SOURCE: http://mbherald.com/play-hear-another-story/

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What other Mennonites are saying about this play:

Ted Swartz’s New Play May Have Just Scared Me Back onto the Straight and Narrow, in the Funniest Possible Way and for Probably Not Quite the Right Reason
http://www.oldsouthhigh.com/2014/05/08/ted-swartzs-new-play-may-have-just-scared-me-back-onto-the-straight-and-narrow-in-the-funniest-possible-way-and-for-probably-not-quite-the-right-reason/

Playwright and actor Ted Swartz brings music, comedy and storytelling to conversation about sexuality, faith and family
http://emu.edu/now/news/2014/10/playwright-and-actor-ted-swartz-brings-music-comedy-and-storytelling-to-conversation-about-sexuality-faith-and-family/

Voice of grace
Actor brings music, comedy and storytelling to conversation about sexuality, faith and family

http://mennoworld.org/2014/11/03/voice-of-grace/

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What God says about the same-sex issue:

“Is it possible to be a gay Christian?”
http://www.gotquestions.org/gay-Christian.html

What does the New Testament say about homosexuality?
http://www.gotquestions.org/New-Testament-homosexuality.html

What does the Bible say about gay marriage / same sex marriage?
http://www.gotquestions.org/gay-marriage.html

What does the Bible say about homosexuality? Is homosexuality a sin?
http://www.gotquestions.org/homosexuality-Bible.html

If homosexuality is a sin, why didn’t Jesus ever mention it?
http://www.gotquestions.org/Jesus-homosexuality.html

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What the facts say about same-sex relationships being harmful:

Homosexual activity harms no one
http://carm.org/homosexual-gay-sex-harms-no-one

Misery and the “Gay”
http://moriel.org/MorielArchive/index.php/discernment/church-issues/various/misery-and-the-gay

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RELATED:

More Mennonites Licensing Same-Sex Pastor
https://mennolite.wordpress.com/2014/10/29/more-mennonites-licensing-same-sex-pastor/

Same Sex Marriages in Mennonite Church
http://mennoworld.org/2014/07/14/after-ban-is-lifted-same-sex-couples-wed-at-germantown/

‘Wisely’ Revised Mennonite Perspective on Sin
https://mennolite.wordpress.com/2014/06/20/wisely-revised-mennonite-perspective-on-sin/

Mennonite Leaders Concerned about Recent Same-Sex Issues
https://mennolite.wordpress.com/2014/03/19/mennonite-leaders-concerned-about-recent-same-sex-issues/

Will Mennonites Make Space to Welcome Sin?
https://mennolite.wordpress.com/2014/01/28/will-mennonites-make-space-to-welcome-sin/

Mennonite University Considering Policy Change to Allow Homosexual Faculty
https://mennolite.wordpress.com/2013/11/26/mennonite-university-considering-policy-change-to-allow-homosexual-faculty/

Mennonite Church USA Same Sex Marriage Symposium
https://mennolite.wordpress.com/2013/11/15/mennonite-church-usa-same-sex-marriage-symposium/

__________

NEW RESOURCE:

NEW BOOKLET TRACT: 6 Questions Every Gay Person Should Ask
http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=16535

NEW: Also see:

A Public Service Announcement Regarding Goshen and EMU.
https://mennoknight.wordpress.com/2015/08/19/a-public-service-announcement-regarding-goshen-and-emu/#more-5371